Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 22 January 2003
Elixir, Centagenetix unite
R. John Davenporthttp://sageke.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sageke;2003/3/nw12
Key Words: industry business biotechnology companies
Two companies that seek to develop age-retarding therapies announced last Monday that they will merge. The marriage of Elixir Pharmaceuticals and Centagenetix, both headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, brings together complementary approaches to the problem of aging, say company representatives.
A growing number of commercial ventures are focusing on aging (see " 'Gero-Tech' Sprouts, But Will It Bloom?"). Elixir Pharmaceuticals applies the research of founders Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California, San Francisco, and Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The molecular geneticists have discovered genes that extend the longevity of nematodes and yeast. Centagenetix, founded by Harvard University geneticists Louis Kunkel, Thomas Perls (now at Boston University), and Annibale Puca (now vice president of research at Centagenetix), scrutinizes the genomes of centenarians for gene variants associated with extreme longevity.
"By putting the companies together, we're building a comprehensive platform from yeast all the way up to man," says Elixir president and CEO Edward Cannon. The merger fills gaps in both companies, adds Carl Weissman, who heads business operations at Centagenetix on behalf of the venture capital firm MPM Capital. Elixir scientists can use Centagenetix technology to determine whether the same genes that control life span in model organisms operate in humans, and Centagenetix can exploit Elixir's approach to illuminate the function of centenarian genes, Weissman says: "We'll have the ability to better validate each other's [drug] targets."
The two companies have had connections since their inception in 2001. "The founding scientists knew each other, and the same [investors] were talking to the two separate groups of founders," says Cannon. One venture capital firm "did try to put the two sets of founders together under one company way back then," he adds. "But that was in the heady days when biotech stocks were going through the roof and everybody thought there was more money than electrons in the universe, so everybody wanted to go their own way." Weissman approached the Elixir CEO last fall and presented the idea of teaming up, says Cannon, who had entertained the notion previously. Investors in the two companies agreed to the merger about a month ago, and Cannon and Weissman say they hope to complete the deal by the end of January, about the same time that $17 million in funding raised for the combined company will kick in. Current Centagenetix CEO Doros Platika will step down, and Cannon will take the helm of the combined company, which will continue to use the name Elixir.
"I'm really glad," says Elixir founder Kenyon. "It means that we're not competing with one another. We're working together now." The combined brainpower might speed the discovery of an age-combating therapy.
--R. John Davenport
January 22, 2003
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Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150